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Dublin: 15°C Saturday 8 May 2021

One of the greatest moments in Irish football history and more talking points from the Italy win

The Boys in Green secured a memorable victory to reach the second round of the Euros for the first time ever.

Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert

- Paul Fennessy reports from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

1. O’Neill’s selection vindicated

MARTIN O’NEILL MADE some brave calls in his selection yesterday evening, dropping stalwarts John O’Shea and Glenn Whelan, while handing Blackburn’s Shane Duffy a first competitive start.

O’Neill emphasised the need for “energy” from his team yesterday, and they certainly delivered in that regard.

Jeff Hendrick, James McClean and Robbie Brady all delivered their best performances in an Ireland jersey tonight, while virtually every player stepped up to some degree.

For O’Neill in particular, it must have been a sweet moment to savour. Even the substitutions he made were exactly what was required with Wes Hoolahan in particular showing superb character and composure to deliver a ball straight onto Brady’s head for the goal, after missing a golden opportunity moments before.

The 64-year-old coach therefore deserves just as much credit as any player out there — he gambled big time, yet virtually every decision the former Celtic boss made turned out to be the correct one.

2. Sour grapes from Conte?

Italy v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group E - Stade Pierre Mauroy Italy's coach Antonio Conte reacts after Ireland scored their goal. Source: Frank Augstein

Antonio Conte was not best pleased at his press conference in Lille last night.

The Italian manager, while congratulating the Boys in Green, insisted his side didn’t deserve to lose.

Of the Irish side, the former Juventus coach said: “They were rewarded perhaps more than they deserved but were rewarded nonetheless.”

He added that Ireland’s performance was “typical of their brand of football” and featured “a lot of long balls”.

“The pitch helped them more than us in the situation,” Conte complained.

While there is truth to some of Conte’s comments, most neutrals would agree that the Irish team were worthy winners tonight.

The Boys in Green were on top for most of the game, wasted a couple of decent chances and were denied one stonewall penalty in the first half. Suggesting the victory was not deserved seems like sour grapes from the soon-to-be Chelsea manager

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We referenced Paris 2009 in a preview piece this morning, and Ireland played tonight in a similar fashion, only this time, there was a happy ending

3. Was this Ireland’s greatest victory ever?

The Irish team have delivered some memorable wins over the years.

England in Euro ’88, Italy in World Cup ’94, Holland in ’01 and Germany last October are among the country’s finest footballing achievements.

It may have been a weakened Italy team, but it still included four players from Juventus, two from PSG, one from Milan, Dortmund and Roma among others.

This is far from the most talented Irish side ever, so the fact that they managed to deservedly beat players used to competing at a higher level than them certainly emulates and arguably even eclipses many other memorable past achievements.

4. Ireland capitalise as Italy below par

For Ireland to win in Lille, they needed to play 10% above their usual level, while the Italians had to be 10% below their customary performance. And it seemed to be the case on both counts, as Italy undoubtedly underperformed, for all Ireland’s excellence.

The Italians were particularly fortunate to be level at half-time, with Ireland the better side, having been denied a clear-cut penalty when James McClean was brought down inside the box by Federico Bernardeschi.

The first-half performance was particularly tame from the Azzurri, as they failed to register a single shot on target and had one shot in total.

And while they improved in the second period, with Simone Zaza and Lorenzo Insigne both going close with long-range efforts, few could argue with the outcome.

Overall, the stars of the Italy side struggled to live up to their reputation, with Championship players such as Shane Duffy, Richard Keogh and Jeff Hendrick ultimately overshadowing the bigger names of the opposition.

Conte said the Irish team played “above their usual level” as it was a “life or death” match for them. He was right in that regard.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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